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MySpace Buckles in Sex Offender Data Dispute

By Katherine Noyes
May 21, 2007 1:52 PM PT

After a brief showdown last week with a group of attorneys general, MySpace announced Monday that it will give the group the information it requested about registered sex offenders with profiles on the site. The attorneys general delivered a subpoena to the social networking site on the same day.

MySpace Buckles in Sex Offender Data Dispute

Working with Sentinel SAFE, MySpace identified about 7,000 registered sex offenders who used the site, according to the company. Those profiles were deleted, but information about the users was saved and will be delivered to the attorneys general.

"In addition to immediately removing registered sex offenders from MySpace, our plans have always been to provide the information collected by Sentinel SAFE to law enforcement, including the attorneys general," said Mike Angus, executive vice president and general counsel for Fox Interactive Media, which owns MySpace.

Subpoena Delivered

The group of eight attorneys general, led by Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal and North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper, sent a letter to MySpace last Monday requesting information about sex offenders using the site. Last Tuesday, MySpace said it couldn't provide the information without a subpoena.

MySpace met with Blumenthal and Cooper last Friday.

"I am pleased that MySpace has heeded our demand, now by subpoena, to provide information about convicted sex offenders and confirm steps to remove them from the site," Blumenthal said.

Keeping It Safe

MySpace will be delivering names along with e-mail addresses and Internet protocol addresses for the offenders identified.

"I commend MySpace for taking this step and welcome this cooperation. Social networking sites should not be playgrounds for predators. ... Other social networking Web sites should follow MySpace's lead to kick out sex offenders and keep them off their sites," Blumenthal said.

"I'm thrilled that MySpace is cooperating," privacy lawyer Parry Aftab told TechNewsWorld. "They've had a long history of cooperating with anything law enforcement needs to keep users safe. I'm happy the question appears to be resolved."

Proposed Legislation

There are about 600,000 registered sex offenders in the United States, according to MySpace, so the 7,000 identified on MySpace represent just more than one percent of that total number. There are 175 million MySpace users.

Of course, because MySpace doesn't verify the identities or ages of its users, it's possible there are more who are not using their real names. There is proposed legislation that would criminalize providing a false identity online for the purpose of soliciting sex from a minor, Larry Magid, founder of SafeKids.com, told TechNewsWorld. Conviction would add 10 years to the perpetrator's sentence.

MySpace's cooperation with the attorneys general is a good step, Magid said, but much danger still exists online for children.

High-Risk Kids

"I think it's important to understand that this is really just one layer of protection, and not the strongest layer," Magid commented. "Even if we eliminated every registered sex offender from the site, that's just a small percent of the risk -- the majority of people who commit crimes against children are not registered sex offenders."

The frequency with which kids have been sexually molested as a result of an online encounter has been exaggerated, Magid said, and in those cases where it has happened, "the child had engaged in a blatantly dangerous activity. These children are certainly still victims, but you have to ask what we could have done in terms of education and counseling, and identifying the high-risk kids."

"It's great that MySpace is cooperating, but this is a bit like inoculating an entire population against a rare disease," Magid concluded, "when it might make more sense to look for those in a high-risk category instead."

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